You may have found us a bit quieter than usual of late. Well, that is because we have been hard at work on an exciting new project. After considerable time and effort, we at Westley Richards are proud to announce the launch of our brand new website.
Featuring the finest imagery and design, and industry-leading technology, it showcases the world of Westley Richards like never before. Designed and developed especially for those with a passion for fine guns, hunting, bespoke leather goods and the very best shooting clothing and products, the new site is a reflection of what we do here at Westley Richards in our relentless pursuit of perfection. We hope you enjoy it and we look forward to welcoming you all into our world.
Houston’s Cyril Adams is one of the most influential figures in the revival of interest in British guns—particularly hammer guns and those with Damascus barrels—that swept America in the 1980s and ‘90s. During the period he owned London’s Atkin Grant & Lang (1984-1999), Adams resuscitated the once-great maker and aided by the expert tutelage of Ron Solari produced some of the finest sporting shotguns made in Britain during that time. In 1996, along with co-author Robert Braden, Adams published Lock, Stock & Barrel, which remains one of the best single-volume primers on the principles and methods of best quality British gunmaking.
Newly out is his magnum opus: Live Pigeon Trap Shooting, the first book written in the English language on the subject in more than 120 years, and by far the most comprehensive ever published. Clearly written throughout its 275 pages, and complemented with hundreds of rare photographs and illustrations, it is encyclopedic in its detail of the sport past and present.
Pigeon shooting was also popular in America, as shown in this 1891 illustration from Harper’s Weekly.
Today live pigeon trap shooting is arcane and little known but in its heyday in the 19th and early 20th centuries, it was not only enormously popular internationally—drawing large crowds of spectators—but also critically important in the development of modern wingshooting, shotguns, ammunition, and the target-shooting sports such as trap and Helice that are its direct descendants. In 1886, English shooting writer A.J Stuart-Wortley wrote of the sport: “Here every modern improvement in guns, powder, or cartridges has been brought to the test, and there can be no doubt that the practical proofs supplied by pigeon shooting have been of great service to the science of modern gunnery.”
Monte Carlo was the epicenter of international pigeon shooting, and its most prestigious venue. This photo likely dates from the early 1920s.
Italians have been many of the sport’s most successful shooters. The stylish Duke of Abruzzi in northern Italy in 1929.
As Adams explains in his overview introduction: “In the pigeon ring, new ideas for improvements to guns and ammunition could be tried against each other under consistent conditions with repeatable results. This is not possible in the field, but useful improvements developed and then proven by pigeon shooters were quickly incorporated into field guns and ammunition.” This was particularly true in the British gun trade, where pigeon shooting remained popular until the end of the 19th Century. Successful pigeon shots were often a gunmaker’s best source of advertising and publicity.
1930 World Championship program.
The action and excitement of a columbarie shoot in south Texas.
Westley Richards was just one of many gunmakers that used the success of pigeon shooters to promote its guns.
The Westley Richards “Ovundo” was offered in trap configurations and one was used by Henry Quersin to take several championships in Belgium in the 1920s.
Adams—an engineer by training with a specialty in low-temperature physics—has competed in pigeon and Helice rings around the world for half a century, and is a uniquely qualified author. The book comprises seven chapters: 1) History; 2) Bird and Traps; 3) Guns; 4) Ammunition; 5) Notable Shots; 6) Descendants; 7) How to Do It. A bibliography and an appendix of pigeon and Helice championship results and the rules governing the sport round the work out—and given its quality it is the most important book on wingshooting and fine guns to be published in 2017.
Cyril S. Adams, at home, in the ring, with his 34-inch-barreled Stephen Grant hammer gun — aka “Supergun.”
Live Pigeon Trap Shooting is available in the UK and internationally from the publisher, The Sporting Library, an imprint of BPG Media, which publishes Fieldsports: www.thesportinglibrary.co.uk. It is available to Americans purchasers directly from the author: firstname.lastname@example.org
In a red-brick workshop, built when Victoria reigned, on the southern side of Birmingham, in the hamlet of Stirchley, the clock stopped a hundred years ago. Through a gray metal door, up 14 worn wooden steps, you enter the world of Haydn Jonathan Hill—a fifth-generation action filer to the British gun trade who makes guns by the same methods and machines his great-great-grandfather used more than a century past.
Rip out the flourescent lights and electrical wire, and there isn’t much in this workshop that Haydn’s ancestors didn’t or couldn’t use. Along three south-facing windows is Haydn’s workbench, cluttered with files, chisels, hammers, strips of emery—the sundry implements of traditional handwork.
At the back of the shop are the machines. Haydn flicks on an electric motor, and a line shaft suspended near the ceiling begins to turn, driving pulleys hung with a web of worn leather belts that are connected to lathes, millers, shapers and slotters below. The years roll back as the machines begin to chug and hum, and the Edwardian era is upon you. Here is a belt-driven vertical miller from Germany’s Friedrich Deckel; The Denbigh, another miller from A. Finney & Co.; and yet another from Alfred Herbert. All were in use when Britain’s soldiers marched off to France in 1914.
Haydn appeared bemused at his American visitor’s wide-eyed wonderment. “This is just normal for me,” he said. “I just work from basic machinings I do here, and then make guns with these parts by hand.”
Making guns by hand is what Haydn’s family has done since at least the 1860s. His earliest known ancestor in the gun trade was his great-great-grandfather, John Hill (born in Birmingham in 1844), a gunmaker and engraver who had at least two sons follow on: Jesse Hill (born in 1867) and Charles Hill (in 1877). Jesse—Haydn’s great-grandfather—and Great-Great-Uncle Charles were action filers skilled enough to be recruited to live and work in London by Holland & Holland in the 1890s, when the firm erected its own factory on Harrow Road. In time Jesse became a foreman at Holland’s, and he was joined there by his son, Jesse Jr. (born in 1886), probably in the early years of the 20th Century, because apprentices started work around age 14.
The younger Jesse stayed at Holland’s until just after the First World War, when he moved back to Birmingham to set up as an independent action filer to the trade in the city’s gun quarter—initially on Price Street, later on Steelhouse Lane, and then Great Brook Street. Jesse Jr. was in turn joined by his son, Henry Radford Roland Hill (born 1921 and better known as Harry), and the pair worked together until Jesse Jr.’s death, in 1961. Three years later Haydn was born to Harry, ensuring another generation would continue the family’s profession as action filers (or actioners as they are called today).
The family name Hill suffuses the history of the Birmingham trade—Nigel Brown’s British Gunmakers Volume Two lists 24 separate Hills as gunmakers in the 19th and early 20th Centuries. “I know almost nothing about them,” Haydn admitted, referring to who among them was related to whom, and how and where they lived, worked and died. Like so many craftsmen now forgotten, these were working men who labored in anonymity for larger gunmakers who had established their names as retail brands. In an age that was hierachical and class-bound, those who worked with their hands were seldom recognized; their achievements were even less often celebrated or recorded.
Recognition, if not fame, had come tantilizingly close for at least one family member. From his grandfather’s desk, Haydn pulled a small, tattered black book dating to 1919. It had belonged to his Great-Great-Uncle Charles, who at some point in the early 20th Century had left Holland & Holland for London’s James Woodward & Sons, where in 1913 he co-patented (Nos. 4986 and 9562, with Charles Woodward and W.P. Evershed) the firm’s enormously influential sidelock over/under. Charles has been credited by British gun historians such as Nigel Brown and David J. Baker as being largely responsible for the seminal design, and lore has it that he later left because he felt he had not received enough credit for its creation. Today the gun is not known as the Hill/Woodward over/under, rather only as the Woodward.
Cracking open the book, its pages brittled by time and darkened by generations of fingers smudged with smoke black and gun oil, Haydn pointed to an entry of hand-drawn dimensions for a 12-gauge sidelock over/under. At the top of the page bearing the drawings, in faint pencil in Charles’s hand, was the word “Woodward.”
“Good heavens,” said English gunmaker Robin Brown, who had accompanied me to Haydn’s. “Now that is a page of gunmaking history.”
A cache of correspondence dating from the 1920s through the ’70s and pages from a ledger book revealed just how many of England’s storied gunmakers had used Haydn’s great great uncle, grandfather and father to make their actions at one time or another: Grant, Lang, Hussey, Harrison & Hussey, Beesley, Jeffrey, Rhodda, Gibbs, Army & Navy, Osbourne, Powell, Holloway, Cogswell & Harrison, and Churchill, among others. There were orders for A&D boxlocks; screw-grips of all grades; sidelocks of conventional, Beesley, and Baker-design; double rifles; pigeon hammerguns; and over/unders.
“Best”-quality sidelock over/under actions built to the Woodward pattern—very difficult to make—were evidently a specialty, not only of Charles’s but also of Jesse’s. A letter to Jesse from E.J. Churchill (Gunmakers), Ltd., dated September 5, 1933, for an “urgent order” of an over/under pigeon gun reads as follows: “You have been recommended to us as the most likely person to suit our requirements and we are therefore placing this order with you and if satisfactory several other orders will follow . . . . This gun has to be shipped to New York at the end of November so you will appreciate no time can be lost.”
Jesse and Harry Hill did an enormous amount of work for Churchill’s from the 1930s until the firm closed, in 1980, and, according to Haydn, both knew the charasmatic owner well. In the mid-1950s Robert Churchill tasked Haydn’s grandfather with simplifying, perfecting and building his firm’s new Zenith over/over, a nettlesome triggerplate design that—according to Harry as quoted in Don Masters’ The House of Churchill—“almost drove his father [Jesse] mad.” Said Haydn: “I think my grandfather was under a lot of pressure to make the gun work.”
Despite the Zenith’s noteriety—Churchill promoted it in his popular book Game Shooting, and the story of its development became something of a consuming passion for British gunwriter Geoffrey Boothroyd—only two are believed to have been completed of the five originally envisioned. It was simply too complicated and too expensive to build commercially.
Haydn walked to the corner of his workshop to a bank of wooden drawers, pulled one open and, to the clanking of steel, rummaged through a nest of old actions to extract an over/under-body machining coated in a fine patina of rust. “It’s for a Zenith,” he said. “Never made up.” Then he found a set of barrels, with the breeches sculpted in the distinctive serpentine shape peculiar to Churchill’s gun. I could only imagine what Boothroyd would have thought if he’d seen them.
In 1958, when redevelopment in inner-city Birmingham flattened their premises at Great Brook Street, Jesse and Harry moved to the current workshop, bringing their ancient machines with them. In 1980, at 16, Haydn joined his father, then working alone, and began training under him as an apprentice action filer.
“You’ll have soon finished your apprenticeship,” quipped Robin, who also started work under his father at age 16 at A.A. Brown & Sons.
“There’s always something new to learn, isn’t there?” Haydn replied.
By the early ’80s, the Hills were mostly making sidelocks for the trade. A gunmaker typically would supply them with the barrels made up, machinings for the action and forend, and a set of locks. As actioners, Harry and Haydn would make, fit and regulate the internal components, chamber the barrels and joint them in, file up the action, fit the furniture, and have the gun proofed. The gunmaker-client would then take the action in-the-white back to be stocked, engraved, hardened and final-finished under its own name.
Harry taught young Haydn by allowing him to rough machine small components. “I didn’t take them to the finished stage,” Haydn said. “My father would finish them off by hand. After about a year he decided to push me further on, to actually fitting the parts. Then I moved on to fitting leverwork, ejectorwork, safework, then connecting it all up, until he thought I could do most of it.”
Learning to joint the barrels to the action—that is, the time-consuming, skill-intensive job of mating the bearing surfaces of each to the other—came last. “I was never allowed to do much jointing until later on—after maybe 10 years,” Haydn explained. “Too much at stake; if you scrape a pair of barrels, you’re in big trouble.”
And it wasn’t until his father suffered a paralyzing stroke in 1993 that Haydn began to consider himself a gunmaker in full. “I was thrown in the deep end really,” he said. “One day he was there; the next he wasn’t.”
After his father died, in 2005, Haydn became sole owner of Jesse Hill Gunmakers, and despite ups and downs in the British gun trade, he has never lacked work.
Today Haydn enjoys a reputation as a first-rate jointer, a craftsman who works to best standards and is possessed with a flair for filing up actions with elegance and grace. As an actioner to the trade, he declines to discuss the identities of current clients, but as an example of ongoing work, he revealed a massive large-bore action on his workbench. It was a boxlock with a hidden third-fastener, and Hayden had sculpted it by hand with large bolsters and was still in the process of jointing in its rifled barrels—a difficult job, given its Saurian size and weight.
“How many times have I been in here and you’ve had a moan about it?” Robin said.
“Yeah, yeah,” Haydn replied. “Hard work to joint, it is. Makes my shoulders ache.”
Yet for Haydn, traditional gunmaking—using manually operated machines to mill, drill, slot and rough out components, and then push a file and wield a chisel to literally craft a gun by hand from them—presents not only a challenge to rise to but also an accomplishment to take pride in. “A proper gun is as good on the inside as it is on the outside,” he said.
Haydn has never been asked to make a gun from the CNC-milled, wire- and spark-eroded components made close to final tolerances that are now ubiquitously used in the trade. Would he ever do so? “I would, yeah,” he said. “Can’t turn down work. But I don’t think I’d enjoy it. A machine-made gun is just a kit. It’s not really gunmaking, is it?”
The answer is complex, beyond the scope of this article, but Haydn’s question is an existential one that goes to the heart of artisinal gunmaking’s future—in England, in Europe, in America, everywhere.
At 50, Haydn Hill is still young, as gunmakers go, and his skills ensure years of work to come. “I don’t think there are many jointers out there with my experience.” But he acknowledges that he is among the last of a type: a gunmaker trained before the trade’s adoption of CAD/CAM technology. “Gunmaking—as I know it—is a dying art.”
He will likely also be the last of his line of Hills to make guns in Birmingham. Without a son, he shakes his head at the thought of bringing along an apprentice. “This is the sort of trade where you follow on from your father, who followed on from his, and he from his.”
One day he may consider making a gun or two with the Hill name on it—a handful exist from his grandfather’s day—but “it’s not something I’ve given much thought to.”
In the meantime there are actions to make for others and guns to build. “Well . . .” said Haydn, looking anxious to return to the century-old bench that he has known since he was a boy. “I’ll be here until I drop. It’s all I’ve ever done.”
Author’s Note: For more information, contact Jesse Hill Gunmakers, Ash Tree Rd., Stirchley, Birmingham, B30 2BJ, England.
Vic Venters is Shooting Sportsman’s Senior Editor.
My sincere thanks to Ralph Stuart Editor of Shooting SportsmanMagazine for allowing me to publish, in full, this article by Vic Venters on Haydn Hill.
Finally I would like to add..
“Given that London gunmakers often regard Birmingham craftsmen as little more than blacksmiths it’s ironic that one of the world’s most expensive shotguns — the Woodward over/under as built today by J Purdey & Son — actually has Birmingham origins….”
The time had come for another long awaited holiday at my Mother’s Cousin’s farm, near to Uncle Pat’s town and I was going to be able to run loose for a while again.
Not that I was exactly constrained at home but even when we went off fishing, my mother wouldn’t allow us to cook and eat the carp we caught in the golf course dams, despite our pleas. These dams were fed by the ‘Jukskei’ river and although it looked deceptively beautiful when pooled and fringed by weaver-nest festooned willow trees, the metal ‘catch grill’ through which it entered the golf course told another story. Here the plastic bags, empty cans, occasional dead dog and other detritus from the city piled up and that wasn’t even counting the unseen and unknown spills from the industrial area further upstream.
I suppose it was also not a good idea having us kids running around with pellet guns upsetting the neighborhood, in a suburban setting. So even though we enjoyed our catapults, lovingly made with forks cut from the neighbor’s ‘Pride of India’ tree, it didn’t quite have the same tang of adventure that striding through the veld with your trusty pellet gun has.
From my then narrow perspective, life on the farm was uncomplicated and exciting and I was fortunate that the adults who populated my world at that time, allowed me to turn this illusion into reality.
The farm has been in the same family for three generations and consequently, has that comfortably mature look. The old house sits on a very gentle rise looking east, down the dirt access road that stretches straight away for nearly a kilometer, before curving down to the unseen tar road. On either side of the dirt road, lie some mielie fields, which in turn lie below the old fruit orchards and some rickety farm buildings. You have to go over a few cattle grids to get to the house and these were designed with elephant in mind, because they very nearly stopped my Dad’s Chev as well.
The old farmhouse sits in the middle of a large garden surrounded and screened on three sides, by a variety of densely growing mature trees. The number of birds attracted to the garden is astounding; just about everyone’s favourites, were the Lesser Striped Swallows that nested under the eaves each year. Mine though, were the small Laughing Doves that thronged the surrounding trees and filled every morning and afternoon with their slightly mournful cooing. The sound of their call today, is still enough to bring on a bout of nostalgia.
People built solid homes in those days, but they were not always particularly pretty or even well designed and as a result, some of the high ceilinged rooms were hardly ever used, being very cold in winter. Consequently, one part of the sunny ‘stoep’ or veranda had been bricked off, a fireplace installed, filled with overstuffed furniture and books and called, ‘The Snuggery’. This is where adults, dogs, cats and children congregated on winter evenings and where knitting, reading, dreaming and snoozing got done.
Behind the house, the rest of the farm stretched up to a far ridge of low hills on one side and up to the tip of a higher point on the other. You could see a very long way from this point and sometimes, it even snowed up there in winter. Since it was primarily a cattle farm, the only cultivated fields were the mielie lands and these were surrounded by natural grassland, cut through with thorn-tree lined dongas. Small farm dams, stocked with bass by Uncle Pat, were dotted around as sources of water for the cattle. There was even an atmosphere of history lingering around, because if you looked long and hard enough, you could still find old cartridge cases from some long forgotten skirmish during the Boer war and the one boundary was a stone wall built way before posts and wire were available.
We arrived late on a Saturday afternoon, after what seemed an interminable drive – there appears to be a limit to the adult sense of humor when a boy enquires for the hundredth and fifty-second time, ‘are we nearly there yet?’, so it was with relief on all sides that we poured ourselves out of the Chev and stretched our legs.
Some adults have the gift of talking to children in such a way, that the child feels important, so when Nora smiled and told me how happy she was to see me, I started melting. When she admired my pellet gun and told me she was really glad that I had brought it along because she just couldn’t get anyone to supply some doves for a pie she had been thinking of making, she had me deep in her pocket. It was with a sense of purpose and responsibility that I set off early the next morning.
Cattle were moaning in a far paddock, a black cuckoo was giving its characteristic, drawn-out ‘mid-mar…sloooop’ call way off in the bluegums and my pocketful of lead pellets felt reassuringly heavy as they made my khaki shorts sag to one side. I was after Red-eyed Turtle Doves, which although being rather wary and not nearly as plentiful as the Cape Turtle Doves that also lived there, they are plump and designed to fill a pie – I was to learn the virtue of perseverance that day.
The hunt started by scouting the old orchards and then through and around the mielie lands. There were certainly enough doves about, but despite careful stalking, they were on the lookout and I watched in frustration as they craned their necks in my direction before taking off with a clattering of wings just as I got within range. Uncle Pat’s trusty BSA had seen a lot of action and the spring was so weakened, that if you shot straight up into the air the pellets’ flight path was easily visible to the naked eye against the light background. This meant that any successful shots further than twenty meters out, were verging on being miraculous and I had only managed to work one miracle before lunch. Now a pie needs more than a single bird, but Nora told me not to be discouraged as she was sure I’d get enough in due course but that she’d ‘put a roast in the oven just in case’. Her cheerful faith in my ability to feed the ravenous hordes, had me really determined and excusing myself from the lunch table quickly.
The day had grown hot and the sweat tickled down my back as I headed off behind the house to explore the thorn-clad dongas, where succulent aloes grow in the open patches and the water runs fast and muddy after heavy rain. That day though, the ground was dusty and the air had become still. Grasshoppers flew up with a ‘click-click’ and a ‘whirrrrr’, to land ahead of me, only to repeat the process as I got closer again. As a couple of hawks soared lazily high above me, the only other sounds were a low, scolding chattering from a sunbird and the scuttling of a lizard as I went by.
Eventually, by way of another minor miracle, a second careless dove fell to my shot, snagging high in the branches of a thorn bush. Fifteen minutes and many scratches and youthful curses later, I emerged from the embrace of the thorns to consider my options; at the rate things were going, certain starvation stared us in the face.
Sitting on an anthill gloomily contemplating this state of affairs, I absently watched two Red-eyes circling and then dropping to ground towards the old implement shed far away in the distance, to the side of an old orchard. I took a bit more notice when another dipped in two minutes later and really sat up when they were followed in by three more. The old BSA again felt light and the scratches forgotten, as I hurried with renewed energy to take the most direct route to the shed.
A prospector finding a fat nugget, probably gets close to the feelings I felt, as my eyes slowly inched over the top of the grass separating me and the area in front of the creaky old building. There must have been at least forty-five dove-pie ingredients pecking over the heap of bare maize cobs strewn over the ground. After a long aim to calm my pounding heart, the closest bird slumped at the shot and the rest took off in mild puzzlement to a nearby tree, only to reappear in dribs and drabs soon after. A quick reload and I was another bird richer.
Not being able to see me, they never became alarmed enough to get going permanently. Instead, the interval between the ‘thwap’ of the pellet gun and their return just took a bit longer as time went on. I stopped at twelve doves, reckoning that a grand total of fourteen had dented the population enough for then, while at the same time ensuring that hunger would not be a factor for that day at least.
The guineafowl were calling each other and it was starting to get cold fast, as I slowly made my way up to a warm kitchen and some adults, who for some reason looked surprised at the pile of birds tipped onto the kitchen table. After dinner, I plucked doves till my fingers ached, and then staggered off to bed and one of those toasty, feather eiderdowns that they don’t seem to make anymore.
The following evening after a long day fishing in the farm dams, I returned to the farmhouse to some tantalising smells and later, a large, oven-blackened dish covered with brown, crisp, flaky pastry emerged from the kitchen. Inside, fourteen plump doves simmered in dark gravy, together with kidneys, potatoes, onions and some other magic ingredients. When this fragrant mixture was served over rice, accompanied by large hunks of fresh bread smothered in salty farm-made butter, silence descended on the table till the last lip-smacking morsels were gone – the left-over lamb roast was put back in the refrigerator untouched.
Thinking back, that pie was so good it has made me scour my memory for the recipe and it goes like this:
Firstly take one small, keen boy. Send him to a farm where plump doves live and…….
Based on an old 1912 period small pocket catalogue, of which I have only ever seen one copy, the one above, our 2016 pocket catalogue has been very well received and I hope many of them are kept and reveal themselves in 100 years time.
As many people will not have had the opportunity to pick one up at the various shows we do, or at the shop here in UK. Here is the full content of the catalogue which I hope you enjoy.
This is the 2nd edition of the book with a dust wrap illustrating C. Fletcher Jamieson with his Holland double .450
As a manufacturer of traditional big game rifles there are always those classic books that come up in discussion and without question one of the very best is John ‘Pondoro’ Taylors “African Rifles & Cartridges” published in 1948.
I have always found this book a great resource as it details all the great British calibre’s, specifically bullet weight and velocities. Having worked at Westley Richards for well on 13 years this has proved invaluable as we have been lucky enough to deal in so many great vintage rifles, both double and bolt action in every calibre mentioned in Taylors book. Being able to turn to this book in my early days was of real benefit when looking up the oddities that still arrived from India.
What continues to amaze me from a modern perspective is that even with the advancement in bullet technology and optics, the traditional British big game rifle of Taylor’s era has remained virtually unchanged, a testament perhaps to all round perfection in gunmaking.
Today we have in production double and bolt action rifles in .300 H & H, .318 WR, .375 H & H, .425 WR, .450/.400 3″, .404 Jeffery, .470, .500, .505 Gibbs, .577 and .600, calibres all discussed in detail in Taylor’s book.
Taylor himself spent the greater part of his life as an ivory hunter, come poacher and was lucky enough to be around at a time when big game hunting and access to the rifles of the great British manufacturers of the time were both readily available.
Whilst Taylors own exploits and life remain controversial, no-one can take away the fact that he wrote a fantastic book, one that has often been copied, but never bettered. The whole layout, photography and line drawings make for a great visual and informative book dealing principally with British big game calibres, rifles and hunting in Africa.
One of the many photos taken by the famous hunter C.Fletcher Jamieson which illustrate Taylors book
The line drawings and descriptions of the various cartridges and bullets make for a fascinating insight
The Sable has always been a top trophy and one that I have always wanted to hunt. Whilst Taylor considered this a ‘fair average’ specimen it would probably be considered very good indeed today!
A modern era Westley Richards take down bolt action rifle in .425 WR.
In my own humble opinion no serious African hunter or avid gun collector should be without a copy of this book in their library. I have owned several copies since the age of 15 and at one stage ticked off all the different calibre’s I was lucky enough to shoot here at Westley Richards and out in the field!
A brace of Holland & Holland .375 Flanged Magnum ‘Royal’ double rifles.
Taylor was always a great advocate of the .375 Holland cartridge and today it still remains the ‘all around’ cartridge and one which no hunter should be without.
I am not plugging this book simply because it has used our photography on the cover and extensively inside, but rather because it is an excellent reference of modern engraving. Altogether it is very well illustrated and very nicely designed. I am unable to comment on the writing due to my language skills, which being typically English, are nil!
This is a comprehensive work of 432 pages, a large book the same size format as our own book In Pursuit of the Best Gun. Half of the book covers techniques and a general overall look at gun engraving and the second half of the book focus’s on the work of 16 individual engravers.
I don’t profess to understand social media, I do however, almost religiously, post daily to our Instagram account which now has nearly 59,000 followers. I share the new guns and other things we have here at the factory and people appear to enjoy them. The ability to post a photograph which will be seen in an instant by so many people who enjoy our guns, is very a very powerful way to spread the work of our craftsmen.
People are able to comment on the post you make and today the following comment was made regarding the 9.3 x 62 rifle shot I posted. It certainly brought a smile to my face! ‘Roasted by’ is a great comment!
I first met Terry Allen in 2010 when he visited to photograph our new factory and guns whilst on an assignment for Sporting Classics magazine. The resulting pictures led me to offer him, in 2011, the commission to photograph in a ‘singular style’ the main content of our bicentennial book ‘In Pursuit of the Best Gun‘. I never wanted the book to have photographs of guns from many sources but rather a consistent look from one camera and eye, backed up by vintage photographs only as needed to tell the story.
During early 2011 Terry and I spent about 5 weeks together, taking 1000’s of shots of 100’s of guns. We worked both here at the factory and at the homes of generous collector friends in the USA who kindly opened their homes and vaults to us. These were not days of taking one or two careful gun photographs, rather ones where I would say ‘we have an hour to get this shot’, if we failed we moved on to the next gun and returned later if we had time. It was a case of ‘we could only impose on the generous hospitality for a couple of days’ and we had about 40 Westley guns to photograph at each location, we needed 2 an hour ‘in the can’.
I put Terry under a lot of pressure during those weeks but we developed both a great rapport and lasting friendship, also a great style of shot. The shots were a variation of what I would call his ‘silk, tweed and feather’ look, familiar I am sure, to readers of the Shooting Sportsman magazine. This was developed into a more stripped back version, showing the guns at their best and supported only by appropriate bits and pieces as and when needed.
The results and praise for Terry’s work on the book speak for themselves.
So it was with great pleasure that I welcomed Terry back to the factory this evening for a quick cocktail and supper, as he passed by working an assignment for Covey Rise magazine in London and Scotland. No pressure this time for Terry and the opportunity for me to put a ‘face to a name’ for those of you who have never met him, but have seen and admired his work, here on the blog, where it has been used extensively, and of course in our book.
‘Let’s do another book’
No, Let’s not! but you can have another refill though!
Terry’s work is featured often in much of the international sporting press, Shooting Sportsman, Sporting Classics, Covey Rise to name just a few. Terry can be commissioned for work in USA and worldwide via his websiteTerry Allen Photography
Would I like to clean up a rusty old double rifle for him, Ray McKnight had casually asked over the telephone. Aware that ‘cleaning’ can easily go too far, I replied that I’d like to see it the next time he came up to his summer home in the White Mountains of eastern Arizona. His summer home is on the edge of the Mogollon Rim which is also home to a very large herd of elk. Perhaps a little judicious application of elbow grease would give me an opportunity to hunt elk with a real elk rifle.
Ray arrived in late spring with a percussion double rifle by Thomas Kennedy of Kilmarnock, which is a bit southwest of Glasgow, Scotland. A previous owner of the rifle had inquired about Kennedy and had gotten the following reply from Susan Boothroyd via e-mail (email@example.com):
“1834, 27 July Splendid Rifle Shooting. On Wednesday Week four gentlemen belonging to the Kilmarnock Rifle Club met at Southdean near Glasgow, to try the feat lately performed by Captain Ross and Count D’Orsay, for 1,000 guineas, viz, 50 shots off hand, at a target 150 yards distant. We have great pleasure in reporting the day’s sport, as winner of that match has been beat by 93 3/8 inches. The numbers were as follows: Mr. Kennedy, gunmaker, 304 3/8 inches….To the sporting world we can with the utmost confidence recommend our friend Mr. Kennedy, all the guns in the field and that day being of his manufacture.”
“1834-1849. Frequent similar reports of the activities of the Kilmarnock Rifle Club and the skill of Thomas Kennedy both as a Gunmaker and rifle shot in those years. From 1841, he is described as ‘rifle maker to his Royal Highness Prince Albert.”
“Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle, 1822-1866. Joint founder of the firm of hydraulic engineers, Glenfield and Kennedy Ltd.
All that came from Susan Boothroyd. Subsequently I received even more on Thomas Kennedy through the kindness of Christopher Penn (firstname.lastname@example.org):
“…an Ayrshire Directory published in 1837 by Pigot & Co. lists a Thomas Kennedy under Watch & Clockmakers with the annotation (and Jeweler and gun maker). He was trading from 1 Portland Street, Kilmarnock.”
“The earliest Scottish Census I have access to is that for 1871. This includes a Thomas Kennedy, age 72, at 7 Portland Road. However, he is listed as a Water meter manufacturer. I am pretty sure this is the same man as I found the following on a University of Glasgow site covering their holdings of the papers of the firm Glenfield and Kennedy. ‘Kennedy Patent Water Meter Co Ltd was formed in 1863 from a syndicate with four partners and marketed the water meter patented by Thomas Kennedy, senior, a local clock maker.’ Thomas Kennedy dies on 6 September 1874.”
The obituary that Chris sent along later contained the following: “…Having married the daughter of Mr. John Hunter, saddler, he again began business (jeweler, watch and clock making) on his own account and added to it the trade of gun making, for which he acquired a great reputation, and through the influence of Mr. Wallace of Kelly he received the honorary appointment of gunmaker to Prince Albert…The rifles of his manufacture were held in high estimation both in this country and in India, where a ready market was found for them and high prices obtained.”
Gold medal made and presented by Thomas Kennedy.
A look in Col. Robert E. Gardner’s Small Arms Makers showed only “Kennedy, –Maker of sporting rifles Kilmarnock Scotland 1837-1841.” Having at hand a copy of David Baker’s lovely The Royal Gunroom at Sandringham I hoped to find mention of Kennedy therein. However, the only gun makers I could find associated with Prince Albert were George and John Deane; J D Dougall; William Greener; Charles Lancaster; John Manton and William Moore. A friend has recently obtained a percussion gun by Moore and Harris of Birmingham, who also had a Royal Warrant of Appointment as gun makers to the Royal Family and who are not included in David’s book, but who were in business 1840-1860, well prior to the Prince Consort’s death on December 14, 1861. I remain curious to know how many other makers had MAKER TO HRH PRINCE ALBERT on their top ribs as does the Thomas Kennedy double rifle. Readers with such information are encouraged to contact me via the Double Gun and Single Shot Journal.
Queen Victoria had this handsome statue of her beloved Prince Consort Albert placed in Edinburgh City Park.
Sir Edwin Landseer was commissioned by Queen Victoria to chronicle Prince Albert’s stag hunting in the highlands. He produced a preliminary sketch with colored chalks in 1850-1, known as ‘Study for Royal Sports on Hill and Loch’ (also titled ‘Queen Victoria Landing at Loch Muick’).
Queen Victoria and Prince Albert at the Royal Exposition which he supervised, in 1851. The statue of Albert which is in the Edinburgh City Park is visible over his right shoulder. Painting in the Victoria and Albert Museum, London.
Landseer was commissioned to do a scene with ‘Prince Albert at Balmoral’, also titled ‘Death of the Royal Stag with the Queen Riding up to Congratulate His Royal Highness’. Finished in the period 1865-7 after the Prince Consort’s death, it was a memento of happier times.
Prince Albert liked Landseer’s ‘The Drive’, of which only a portion is shown here, so much that in 1847 he persuaded the Marquess of Breadalbane to cede it to him.
Stalking red deer in the Scottish highlands was a very popular theme for Landseer’s clients including the artist’s great friend, the sportsman and photographer Horatio Ross of Rossie, shown in a painting similar to this one, which actually portrays “Poachers Deerstalking’ also titled ‘Getting a Shot’ ca. 1831. It was this Captain Horatio Ross who was previously mentioned in the target shooting event at the Kilmarnock Rifle Club in 1834.
When Ray uncased the eight pound double, it looked as if it had been on many a red deer hunt in the damp Scottish highlands and needed some gentle cleaning inside and out. Following Ron Peterson’s instructions in the Society of American Arms Collectors Bulletin 59 (1988), removal of surface rust showed a fierce tiger engraved on the left lock and a stag on the right. Most of an hour invested on the bores revealed them to have what is generally known as Forsyth rifling: wide shallow grooves, very narrow lands, a twist of 1:120 inches. This rifle would hunt elk if I could be blessed to draw yet one more permit in Arizona.
I phoned Jamie Andrews at Dixie Gun Works and requested that he make a .665 round ball mould. Next I phoned Ross Seyfried and asked where to start with a powder charge. Ross surprised me with the answer, 2.5-3 drams! What, in a young cannon that conventional wisdom says surely ought to want 4-5 drams? We’re talking Forsyth, slow twist, 16 bore patched ball, in a gun with one standing and three leaf sights. Well, why ask his advice if you don’t take it? I started with 4 drams of Cleanshot, an over powder 16 bore .135 hard card wad, ‘Bore-Butter’ lubed .015 patch, and I couldn’t hit the 2 foot square target only 50 yards away! Backing off to 3 drams I got one ball from the left barrel near the right outside edge of the 6” black and the right barrel 6” high and crossed 11” to the left. OK, Ross we’ll try it your way. I loaded 2.5 drams of Cleanshot and got snake eyes one inch apart out to 75 yards! A dozen more groups shot off cross sticks never landed over three inches apart. This rifle would hunt alright, but not loaded like I expected a Forsyth to be loaded. Perhaps all those extra leaf sights had a purpose, for shots at game beyond 75 yards….Once again black powder guru Ross Seyfried came through with the right load.
The Kennedy was equipped with a cap/patch box that held components for a reload.
Permit 388 of 425 bull elk tags for November 24-30, Unit 1 in eastern Arizona arrived in the mail and I began to query other elk hunters about where to set up an ambush. One friend shared information on a ‘honey hole’ that would be suitable. Several scouting trips showed no recent use by any elk, much less tree scraping by a bull. Long time friend Jack Husted suggested a place where several trails funnel down into a saddle near the Sipe White Mountain elk refuge managed by the Arizona Game and Fish Department. Jack, his son Garrett, and I had all taken cow elk on the refuge several years previously. Mine was taken with a Sharps chambered for the .40-65 black powder cartridge. Scouting here showed lots of traffic. My 26 year old son Ty helped me build a blind two weeks before opening day. His account of the activity was that actually I helped him.
We erected a tent 1.3 miles from the blind and settled in Thanks Giving evening. I was thankful for Ty’s company, an opportunity to hunt with a fine antique rifle, an elk permit, and good health, all three days after my 64th birthday. Leaving camp at 5:25 AM in lightly insulated camo clothing, I was quite warm after walking to the blind, which I settled into at 6:05. By 7:30 I had cooled off a lot. By 8:05 I was shivering, but I dared move no more than my eyes when I heard the telltale clatter of hoofs on rocks as two large animals moved up the steep hillside toward the saddle. The lead bull looked like a keeper. He was followed by a large bodied spike, and although “we don’t eat antlers”, as the country song has it, “size matters”, so I opted to try for the lead bull. It stepped up into sight, paused for breath, looked right at me, and then bent down to graze. I squeezed and held the trigger on the left lock, eased back the hammer and aimed just behind his right shoulder. I had practiced this movement of aiming and firing offhand many times, knowing full well that the gun would shoot high at close range, which later measure showed to be only 33 paces. But, in my excitement I shot higher than I wanted to, about six inches below his spine, a very high lung shot. Even so, the 448gr., .665 round lead ball collapsed him in his tracks. He fell over on his right side with his feet uphill, bled out and died. Then the work began.
I tagged and eviscerated (gralloched in Gaelic) the bull, walked back to camp and found that Ty already had it packed up and was waiting to know if I’d been successful. We were able to back my little pickup close enough to tie onto the bull and pull it up over a very large Ponderosa pine limb, tie it off and then back under it. God is very good to me!
This was our first opportunity to hunt together since Ty was about four and he is excited to apply for a permit for himself. He wants to get a bull with antlers even larger than mine of course, and he might even let me help him build another blind.
The animal is shown where he fell, 33 paces from the blind. In honor of the Kennedy rifle’s Scottish origin, the author wears his ‘Celtic camouflage’ flat cap.
The Kennedy was loaded from an original Hawksley flask.
The Kennedy shown on an average sized Arizona six by six. A bull that green scored 458 was taken in the White Mountains this past September!
With considerable imagination, I visualize myself as the old codger on the left and my son on the right, happily fetching the game home after Thomas Kennedy of Kilmarnock has done his work.
Thomas Kennedy portrait and shooting medal courtesy of Chris Penn.
Landseer paintings from The Monarch of the Glen: Landseer in the Highlands. Richard Ormand, National Galleries of Scotland, Edinburgh 2005.
Daughter Amanda Lane for technical assistance.
Postscript: a version of this article appeared in the Winter 2010 Double Gun and Single Shot Journal